Justin Gaethje and Brian Foster are just the kind of guys who you always knew would fight. They have “shared space,” which is part of what has led them to their match-up, but they could have been put on opposite ends of the Earth and it wouldn’t have mattered. These guys were born to fight each other.
The shared space was Comerica Theatre in Phoenix. It is where Foster impressively knocked out LaRue Burley on the same night that Gaethje defeated Luis Palomino for the second time. It was also where Foster won the eight-man tournament as Gaethje watched in a suit, scouting who would next challenge for his belt. They also share the state of Colorado as a training ground. Colorado, while it is a big state, may only be big enough for one man to claim the title of best fighter at 155 pounds. The state is also where this will all be settled. The Bank of Colorado Arena in Greeley, Colo., plays host to the most anticipated fight in World Series of Fighting history, the main event of WSOF 29.
The passion and emotion of Foster contrasts with the laid-back drive of Gaethje. The skills are similar and so are the goals. They have reached an intersection of their careers where both men want the same thing. Both fighters are certain they are the man to win and that the win will come on their terms. This is a fight that a serious fight fan cannot miss.
Finishing Rate: 87%
Notes: Undefeated, undisputed champ
Luis Palomino (twice)
Gaethje arrived in the WSOF in March 2013. Within three fights, he was competing for the promotion’s vacant lightweight belt. He won the crown when he defeated Rich Patishnock. Gaethje has defended the strap three times. In his last four fights, he has finished Nick Newell, taken a split verdict in a catchweight bout with Melvin Guillard and fought two epic fights with Luis Palomino, the second of which was on a card where Foster fought. The undefeated champion is now staring at what may be his biggest test to date.
Gaethje is a high-level wrestler, but he uses his skills mostly to keep the fight on the feet and take his opponent’s head off. As comfortable trading punches as anyone in MMA, he fights with a belief in his chin and a belief that he will “hit you with his before you hit him with yours” that few can match. The scary part for his opponents is that Gaethje is getting cleaner on his feet and tightening up his striking.
Opportunities for his opponent: The willingness to take strikes. The funny thing about MMA is that you don’t get an email when your chin is starting to fade. It just goes. A punch that you used to eat like your mother’s dinner, all of a sudden has you staring at the ceiling and asking everyone around you what happened. Gaethje is probably too young for his chin to fade, but he does leave openings and it increases his chances of getting caught. Also, we haven’t really seen Gaethje in a lot of jiu-jitsu and grappling exchanges. There could be something there, but good luck getting the kid down.
Finishing Rate: 96%
Notes: Seen it all, done it all veteran
who is hard to finish with strikes
Foster came into the WSOF in January 2015 and started out with a high-profile opponent, Jake Shields. Shields found Foster’s back and submitted him with a neck crank. Following the loss, Foster looked very impressive in an absolute destruction of LaRue Burley and bounced back from a first-round loss to João Zeferino in the tournament to beat Palomino and avenge the loss to Zeferino.
Foster has been in there with real studs. A lot of them have submitted Foster, but he has held his own at a 15-25 level for many years. He has a ton of experience and can win a fight a lot of different ways. Of his 25 wins, 12 came by knockout or TKO, 12 were submissions and one went the distance. This man is not interested in the judges’ opinions on his fights. His philosophy is to kill or be killed, just like Gaethje. He’s almost impossible to finish, too.
Opportunities for his opponent: Foster can be had on the ground. He has been submitted in a variety of ways. It’s Foster’s willingness to take chances that sometimes gets him in trouble. He has a belief in his ground game that sometimes pays off, like it did against Matt Brown in the UFC, and sometimes doesn’t, as was the case in his first fight with Zeferino.
“Aggressive. Always stepping forward; brings the fight to you. If you are standing in front of him, you are going to take some punishment. If you initiate confrontation, he’s gonna play counter punch with you and he’s gonna land and he’s gonna be strong and he hits hard.”
“Experience. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s fought some huge names. He’s ran in there with some of the best [and] beat some of the best. Hasn’t been knocked out much, and that’s what I’m looking for: I really want to knock him out.”
This is a fight fan’s dream. These two guys are looking to go in there and finish. They are both fully aware that this is a fight that will have an impact on their legacy. Gaethje has been running through everyone. Foster is on a nice winning streak. Each fighter’s confidence is high, and they are looking to make a statement on a weekend that is light as far as MMA goes.
Foster most likely has the better jiu-jitsu, but we haven’t seen Gaethje’s ground game. The problem is whether or not Foster can get the fight to the ground or if he even wants to. Fans are looking for these two to slug it out. They will most likely oblige, but if one or the other comes in with a game plan that include some ground work, this fight could be very interesting. Gaethje, scoring takedowns and looking for ground-and-pound, against Foster fighting off his back might really be the most appealing part of this fight. However, both guys push forward. They like top position and to control the cage. The one thing from pre-fight that may make the fight interesting is Foster’s respect for Gaethje’s power.
For all Gaethje’s skills — and he has many — he doesn’t yet have the experience to set traps for his opponents, unless you count coaxing them into dogfights. Foster will stay away and empty the tool box to find the win. However, Gaethje’s power is a real game-changer. If the champ lands one, everything goes out the window.
Foster is a huge jump in competition and skill set for Gaethje, and the strategy Foster brings to the table is going to be a lot to overcome. However, the old fight axiom that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth is always on the table when Gaethje is the one doing the punching.